A 16-year-old pupil at a school in west China has become the first person arrested under the country’s draconian new anti-gossip law.
Last week, China’s Supreme Court warned that anyone spreading a rumour on the internet faces three years in prison if more than 5,000 people see it, or if it gets reposted more than 500 times.
“Society has demanded serious punishment for […] using the internet to spread rumours and defame people,” said Sun Jungong, the court spokesman. “No country would consider libel to be ‘freedom of speech’,” he added.
The new measure was widely criticised as an expansion of the police state onto the internet, which until now has been censored far less stringently than the traditional media. Critics warned that the law gives government officials another tool to arrest their opponents and that it would spread fear over the web.
“I am really scared now that any whistleblowing might lead to an arrest,” said Zhou Ze, a rights lawyer with more than 165,000 followers on Sina Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter. “We all have to talk less, and more carefully,” he added, to Reuters.
However the first person to fall foul of the law was not an activist or a whistleblower, but an outspoken teenager who got reposted 500 times.
His identity has not been disclosed, but the Beijing Times quoted a man, named Yang, saying police took away his 16-year-old son on Tuesday on charges of “picking quarrels and provoking troubles”.
According to a statement from the county government in Zhangjiachuan, Gansu province, the boy questioned a police investigation that concluded a local karaoke bar manager had committed suicide by jumping from a building.
The boy said the man had been beaten up after a quarrel and accused the police of failing to investigate fully. His accusation quickly went viral, provoking the wrath of the local government.
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